There’s a deep satisfaction in saving seed, a kind of childlike satisfaction in holding them cupped in the curl of a dirty garden-stained palm. Each has its own shape, color, texture, and pattern, and seeing them all together reminds me of childhood treasures; marbles, pebbles, shells, organic collections that need no purpose other than to be pleasing to the eye. But seeds, of course, are useful and have a purpose unrelated to my surface-skimming admiration for them. After the pleasure of harvest and treasure-having is over, the task remains to store them for next year, or to sprinkle them out in the garden now, depending on the type of seed and the whim of the gardener. That’s when their true purposes come into play, as both food for birds and other garden foragers, and as the genetic torchbearers of their kind, taking root and growing on into the next summer.
Chives make a ton of seed, but their wispy seedlings often get lost in the commotion of planting out for summer. I like to gather their spent seedheads and sprinkle them out into a concentrated area so that I can be sure to notice when and where they come up. Coriander and parsley, I just let land anywhere, because they’re the kind of plant that is happy and causes very few problems when peeking out between two intentionally planted plants. (Sometimes, it’s true, you do end up with waaaaay too much parsley, though, as happened in our front bed this year; I’m sure I’ve pulled up fifty parsley plants since winter, and they just keep coming! In the past, I’ve just gotten a few here and there; I think I let too many plants set seed last year. Ah, soft heart! A smarter way to have gone about it would be to have collected the seed, and stored it so that it could be planted intentionally. What a concept! I think I just invented agriculture.
Parsley seed is small and coarse, coriander is shaped little round striped balls that are frankly, adorable. Cerinthe makes matte-black, large globes, as big as a pea, but smoother. Tomatillos have tiny little tomato-like seeds, and rarely set seed by themselves, but in areas with lots of bird and rat predation, the animals often chew into the fruits and spread the seeds everywhere. Once they touch the ground, tomatillo seeds are quite willing to sprout. Lettuce seed is mostly white but sometimes brown or black, small earth-colored seeds, slightly curved, and longer than they are wide. Lettuce is a prolific seed maker, and since we like to eat salad all year long, it’s fun to have them spring up again when the weather gets cooler.
Is the weather getting cooler yet?
The pumpkin plants would like to know. There’s a self-seeded pumpkin in the far end of the garden that set up roots away from the molly-coddling irrigation. Every afternoon, it wilts and looks so sad. But it is covered in small, orange pumpkins, all growing up nicely, thank you, and holding their eye-shaped seeds safe inside the thick orange walls of winter squash.
It’s time for the bi-annual review of the irrigation system, and time to plant a fall garden as the summer crops come out. Out come the leeks, in goes kale. Chard for certain, and lettuce, some cool-weather herbs, broccoli, and should we try Brussels Sprouts again? They never seem to do as well as we might like…but there is always next year.
I’ve been harvesting lately, making room. Fruit and vegetables, of course, but seeds, as well, which I mostly scatter, but aspire to save more of. I’ve also been harvesting flowers, and foliage, to hang up to dry in nooks all over the Feed and Farm, the back offices and the center barn, anywhere dry and coolish and out of direct sunlight. So far, we have lavender, amaranth, phlomis, oregano, white sage, rosemary, fennel, various eriogonums, and an assortment of other flowers, all perfuming the nearby air with their mingled fragrances. Folks breathe in deep when they enter the space and ask what the smell is. It’s the garden, hung up to dry! We aim to have a few wreath-making classes, and perhaps a garland class as well, so stay tuned, if you’re interested, for classes in the late fall and early winter that will utilize this bounty. In the meantime, feel free to join in with your own harvest, as well! It’s a good time of year to cut back woody shrubs, and doing so creates a fragrant bounty that can be dried for use in wreaths and garlands later in the year.
The bees buzz as I harvest the native buckwheat and frittalaries scatter as I harvest zinnia flowers. I am conscious, as ever, that what I take from the garden means that it is not available for insects and other members of the food chain. Of course, that is true of zucchini, too, but I feel it especially keenly with flowers. Since my uses for flowers are mostly aesthetic, rather than for food, I am always aware that other creatures depend on the habitat that we have created here, and so I never take it all. Their presence in the ecosystem helps the rest of the garden to thrive, in the complex, multi-faceted way of food webs, and my care to leave them some of their favorite blooming plants is a kind of gratitude to these under-praised members of the garden. There’s a whole nursery of plants nearby, and it is true that this very garden exists only because we tend it, but it feels good to set something aside for the smaller, sometimes unseen forms of life that share the space with us. Too, many pollinators will preferentially choose large, established patches of blooms to visit, as opposed to the more spotty distribution of smaller plants of various kinds on the nursery shelves. The eriogonums, particularly, are beloved by bees, wasps, butterflies, but because they grow so rapidly, and must be transplanted at a young age to survive, they are usually found in the nursery in 4” or 1-gallon sizes. The patch out below the stop sign gets cut back every year, and is still as big a a bathtub, Behind it, for the first year I can remember, the holodiscus discolor is finally beginning to flower, years after it was planted, and at least a month behind the ones that live in the chaparral hills behind the store. Why this one is slower, I don’t know; perhaps because it is a variety native to another area of California? Whatever the reason, seeing it is like seeing a friend who has always been shy come out of her shell. Hello, holodiscus, with your feathery, frothy white flowers! We are glad you made it to the party.
The purple potato has never left. Every year, I manage to leave a tiny potato spud in the ground, it seems, and from it springs another crop of endless amethyst potatoes. Not quite time to harvest yet, but the vine is growing nicely, and I bury it “up to its neck” periodically, with hay and soil, to make more below-ground space where the root stems can swell into potatoes.
We have a confession to make, though. We neglected the melons in the demo garden, and we’re sorry. A lovely crop of, yes, self-seeded linaria sprang up in front of the vines, and obscured the view of them, though the melons had a trellis to climb, and irrigation run to them. Still, we didn’t notice until too late that they had come down with a mean case of spider mites. They never really took off, just crept up the trellis for only about a foot or two, and this late in the year, there’s really no point in trying to save them, or coax them into further health. Better to be ruthless, ruthless, I say! and pull them out, with a sigh of regret for all the melons that might have been. Ah, but as every good gardener knows, you can’t count your melons until they’re hatched. Now, though, there will be space for a fall crop of peas.
Some of our local farmers in cool coastal areas have been managing to grow peas through the summer, but up here in the hot hot heat, we knew we would not succeed in the middle of the summer. While the heat is still upon us, still, we can feel the coolness of fall creeping into the garden, particularly in the evening, and we’ll try to get a fall crop in. They did so well in that very spot, was it only last spring? It seems an age ago. How time flies, and peas climb, and flowers bloom, and bees buzz.
It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you grow beautiful, sustainable, gardens whether you have sprawling acres of farm or just a tiny plot along the highway. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old-fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.